Places: Orlando Furioso

  • Last updated on December 10, 2021

First published: 1516; second revised edition, 1521; third revised edition, 1532

Type of work: Poetry

Type of plot: Romance

Time of work: Eighth century

Asterisk denotes entries on real places.

Places Discussed*Paris

*Paris. Orlando FuriosoCharlemagne’s capital in France. The visit of Angelica, daughter of the emperor of Cathay, signifies the city’s importance on the world stage, which is further emphasized when it is besieged and assailed by Islamic invaders–variously described as Moors and Saracens–under the command of Agramant. The attackers are eventually driven back, but they continue to mount an inconvenient blockade on Paris until Astolpho’s borrowed Nubian army mounts an assault on Agramant’s homeland. (The sequence of these events has no real historical basis.)


*Italy. Although few Italian settings are directly featured in the main story (Mantua is the principal exception), Italy is frequently at the forefront of prophecies uttered in the course of the poem. These include the prophecies vouchsafed in the magician Merlin’s tomb, a subterranean chamber reached from the bottom of the chasm near Bordeaux, into which Bradamante descends in canto 3. The prophecies delivered by Andronica in canto 15 and those depicted in paintings viewed in canto 33 also include extensive references to Italian future history. These prophecies proudly celebrate the regeneration of Italy’s long-lost glory, flattering Ludovico Ariosto’s contemporary Italian readers.


*Spain. Although several specific locations in Spain are featured in the story, most notably Atlas’s enchanted palace, there is a more general sense in which that country is one of its main anchorages. Charlemagne’s campaigns against Spain’s Islamic conquerors form the core of the legend of Orlando (Roland in the original French). Thanks to the hindsight of history, the poem’s sixteenth century readers knew that parts of Spain would remain under Moorish dominion for several centuries more. They also knew that the primal text of the Roland cycle, the twelfth century Song of Roland, concludes with an ambush in the Pyrenean pass of Roncesvalles in which Roland and many of his companions die; an awareness of this fate adds a certain tacit poignancy to the odysseys of exotic discovery.


Ebuda. Island west of Scotland on which maidens are regularly sacrificed to an orc (a sea-monster) until Orlando arrives in canto 11 to destroy the monster.


*Nubia. Capital of Ethiopia (not to be equated with modern Ethiopia), at the source of Africa’s Nile River. Its emperor Senapo is tormented by the depredations of harpies until Astolpho comes to his aid, thus prompting the journey that takes Astolpho to an inconveniently smoky Hell, then to the Earthly Paradise and the Moon.

Earthly Paradise

Earthly Paradise. Beautiful Arcadian plain with gemlike flowers, whose trees are perpetually laden with fruit. At the center of the plain is the residence of the saints: a radiant palace thirty miles around, formed from a single gemstone.


Moon. World whose geographical features are all unlike their earthly equivalent, although the exact differences are unspecified. The palace in which the Fates spin the destinies of humankind is there, as is a valley where everything lost on Earth is stored: reputations consumed by time, insincere prayers, lovers’ tears, wasted time, and vain desires. These lost entities take ironically appropriate physical forms: Every flattery is a garland concealing a noose; every authority surrendered to a servant an eagle’s talon. The largest heap of all is a mountain of minds, and the largest item in the heap is the lost wits of poor Orlando.


Bizerta. Capital city of Agramant’s kingdom, which encompasses all of North Africa’s Mediterranean coast except Egypt; located in the Atlas Mountains. Following the assault on the surrounding territory mounted by Astolpho’s Nubian army in canto 38, Bizerta’s walls are stormed by Orlando’s Christian army in canto 40. Its residents are slaughtered, and the city is looted while Agramant is stranded at sea; this prepares the way for the crucial battle on the shore in canto 41, in which three champions of Christendom defeat three champions of Islam.

BibliographyBrand, C. P. Ludovico Ariosto: A Preface to the “Orlando Furioso.” Edinburgh, Scotland: Edinburgh University Press, 1974. A general introduction to Ariosto and his work. Includes a biography; a survey of literary forms that influenced Orlando furioso; a discussion of the poem’s major themes, a review of important criticism, and a bibliography.Craig, D. H. Sir John Harington. Boston: Twayne, 1985. Harington wrote the first important English translation of Orlando furioso in the 1580’s. This critical study of Harington’s work, focusing especially on canto 10, sheds light on the themes and images of Ariosto’s poem. Also examines Harington’s illustrations, critical comments, and notes.Giamatti, A. Bartlett. The Earthly Paradise and the Renaissance Epic. Princeton, N.J.: Princeton University Press, 1966. A scholarly but lively examination of images of a blessed landscape in European literature. Illuminating chapter on Orlando furioso as an early Renaissance epic. Annotated bibliography.Griffin, Robert. Ludovico Ariosto. New York: Twayne, 1974. Offers accessible criticism and analysis of Ariosto’s major and minor work, as well as biographical and historical material to place the work in context. Includes a chronology and suggestions for further reading. A good source for the student.Pavlock, Barbara. “Ariosto and Roman Epic Values.” In Eros, Imitation, and the Epic Tradition. Ithaca, N.Y.: Cornell University Press, 1990. Traces the forces of love and piety as they act on the work’s two protagonists. Also takes up the centuries-old question of whether Orlando furioso is an epic or a romance, and finds the influence of both.
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